Before we get into this, let me offer you two tweets from 2016. The first is from Super Tuesday during the primaries, the second is from the day Trump locked up the Republican nomination in Indiana.
Honestly looking forward to the now inevitable “President Trump versus Oprah” election in 2020
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) March 16, 2016
Said it before, will say it again: Oprah would be totally nuts not to run for president after this
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) May 4, 2016
Trump/Oprah isn’t the election America needs but it’s certainly the election America deserves. (Consider it karmic retribution for our national failure to elect Mitt Romney when we had the chance.) Rush marvels at the idea that she would play nationally given her Hollyweird pedigree and her niche as a TV host turned self-actualization guru. Surely there are loads of blue-collar Democrats out there, especially in the Rust Belt, who’d find themselves too far removed culturally to support a billionaire New Age guru who, by the way, would be the first woman president and the second black president, right? In fact, wonders Rush, didn’t the media laugh at Trump after he announced his candidacy when he suggested he might make Oprah his VP? If the idea of a Trump/Oprah ticket was comedy then, the idea of the two of them as presidential nominees must be high comedy now.
Is it, though? The reason Trump/Oprah seemed like comedy at the time was because few people thought he could win. He seemed like a novelty act. He’d jump in, he’d bounce out to an early lead in the polls based on his fame, then he’d start babbling about how POWs like John McCain aren’t “real” war heroes or whatever and the bottom would fall out. The great mass of Republicans would deem him obviously unfit for office, leaving him with a rump populist base of 10 percent. He’d be out of the race after Iowa or New Hampshire. The whole thing was a stunt and his interest in Oprah, one of the few people in America as famous as he is, made it that much more transparently a stunt.
Not quite three years later, here we are. Three very important new political facts now obtain.
1. No celebrity candidate will ever again be treated like a joke. Case in point: More than one pollster went into the field in Michigan a few months ago to test how Kid Rock would do when he teased the idea of running for Senate. Every article written these days about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson contains a semi-serious passage about his presidential ambitions. If one celebrity who’s unqualified can get elected, conceivably any celebrity who’s unqualified can get elected.
2. Popularity may be more important than experience. I say “may” because Trump’s success in business counts as relevant experience for many of his fans. The same would be true for Oprah, who’s parlayed success in television into other projects and a billion-dollar fortune. It’s hard to say how someone like, for example, Tom Hanks or The Rock would fare since they don’t have the same tycoon glamour or entrepreneurial cred, but you wouldn’t bet heavily against them, would you? Democrats will spend a lot of time ruminating on their candidates’ favorable ratings in 2020, remembering that Hillary’s own phenomenal unpopularity kept the even more phenomenally unpopular Trump within striking distance in 2016. They wouldn’t have to worry about that with Oprah (or Hanks). Maybe that’s enough.
3. Negative partisanship is more important than positive partisanship. That’s why Rush is wrong in thinking Oprah wouldn’t have national appeal. Whatever misgivings left-leaning voters might have about her experience or policy inclinations, if they were convinced that she’s the Democrat with the highest likelihood of beating the Republican incumbent, that alone would bring many fencesitters over to her. And even if they weren’t convinced, as many Republicans weren’t convinced that Trump was the party’s strongest nominee in 2016, in the end they’d hold their noses and vote for her anyway if she won the nomination. There’s already polling evidence of that: Back in March, PPP found Oprah leading Trump 47/40 in a hypothetical match-up due in part to the fact that his lead among men was just five points. Oprah’s favorable rating among men in that poll was just 39/40, but in the end enough Democratic men preferred her, or anyone, to Trump to let her lead comfortably overall.
So yeah, she’d be viable nationally. When you’re globally famous, well liked, can print your own money, and might be able to mobilize minority turnout in a way that other Democrats wouldn’t, by definition you’re viable nationally. That’s not to say Oprah wouldn’t have vulnerabilities…
seeing a lot of praise for this and I agree she's an incredible, inspiring woman. she's also a bullshit peddler who is responsible for promoting Jenny McCarthy, the secret, anti-vaxx garbage, Dr Oz, Dr Phil, and so much more. so no, save the "Oprah 2020" bullshit. https://t.co/l9ILfopQ7u
— Rebecca “I Demand 280-Character Usernames” Watson (@rebeccawatson) January 8, 2018
…but if you’re a Democrat choosing between her and stiffs like Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker? C’mon.
Thanks to Trump, I think we’re destined to see clown presidents for the foreseeable future. Partly that’s because he moved the Overton window of what a politician needs to look like and sound like and have accomplished for Americans to deem him presidential timber. But partly too it’s because Americans increasingly seem to want messiahs in their presidents. Obama was elected as a messiah who’d absolve America of its racial sins; Trump was elected as a messiah who’d restore America to the greatness of its post-World War II heyday. Oprah might get elected, unusually, as someone who’s already attained a sort of messianic status, the pope of female self-helpery whose apotheosis would be to shatter the presidential glass ceiling. Why we’re increasingly turning to messiahs in our politics is a question above my pay grade; you and I could half-ass some theories about people filling the vacuum left by traditional religion or desperation designed to cope with anxiety as the country’s economy and demography change in unprecedented ways. But it is what it is. If Democrats come to believe that it takes a messiah to beat a messiah, it’s obvious what sort of candidate they’ll nominate. And it ain’t Amy Klobuchar.